Selby & Friends’ second digital offering for the year – a reimagining of the planned Beethoven’s Ghost tour – was filmed live at an audience-free City Recital Hall on June 1. It’s available from the Selby & Friends website for a modest fee, along with bonus material. The all-Beethoven concert, in celebration of the composer’s 250th Birthday, was originally to have featured the Allegretto from the Seventh Symphony and the Opus 38 ‘Septet’ Trio alongside the Ghost Trio, but here features the third of his Opus 1 Piano Trios and a chamber arrangement of the Second Symphony instead.
Harry Ward, Kathryn Selby and Timo-Veikko Valve. Photo supplied
Making his debut with Selby & Friends is violinist Harry Ward, who was recently announced as a Freedman Classical Fellowship finalist. He’s joined by popular Selby regular, Australian Chamber Orchestra Principal Cellist Timo-Veikko Valve, and, of course, Kathryn Selby at the piano.
The three musicians give Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 3 No 1 a thoughtful, opening, with Ward immediately demonstrating a clean, lustrous sound, and Selby giving the piano lines a charming twinkle. Valve brings crisp energy to the first movement’s brighter, folky moments. Published in 1795, the Opus 1 trio of trios weren’t Beethoven’s first published works, but the Opus 1 designation firmly marks them as an artistic statement, and in this tight, articulate performance of the third – the unison gestures are particularly clean – you can hear why the 24-year-old composer met with such success. Selby brings beautiful simplicity to the opening of the second movement, while the final movement offers an intriguing finish.
From this early trio, we skip ahead to Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Second Symphony, the original version of which was written mostly in Heiligenstadt, between 1801 and 1802, while Beethoven was coming to terms with his increasing deafness. During this period he wrote down his thoughts on his struggle in a letter to his brothers that has become known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. The trio arrangement was made several years later, and like most arrangements of symphonies for chamber forces, there is a lean, wiriness to the music. Here the players bring a driving, feverish energy to the first movement, making an exciting case for the work as chamber music, and they bring a sweetness to the second. While there is an inevitable loss of heft in the translation to chamber work, the light, humorous figures of the Scherzo, for instance, come up beautifully and the finale trips along merrily.
Given it was written only a few years earlier, it’s possible that Beethoven’s arrangement of this symphony for trio forces set the stage for his Ghost trio, the first of his Opus 70 pair dedicated to Marie von Erdödy. The musicians bring a lushness to the opening of the Ghost Trio – which takes its name from Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny associating the Largo with Shakespeare’s Hamlet (or perhaps from Beethoven’s use of material originally intended for a Macbeth opera). Selby, Ward and Valve bring a distinctly haunting timbre to the music – hear those strings in the opening, or the rumbling piano at the movement’s conclusion – in a breathing, emotional account before the finale leaves us on a sunny note.
The concert is nicely filmed and recorded, and the musicians’ spoken introductions recreate the live ‘Selby & Friends’ feel. The editing keeps the video moving swiftly, so the absence of applause isn’t too apparent, but snippets of music that accompany the transitions feel slightly intrusive, particularly after the symphony, as there is little chance to let the final notes really sink in. Nonetheless, a delightful performance.
Selby & Friends’ Beethoven’s Ghost is available online now. Find all available viewing options here.